It was announced recently that Oakland A’s GM Billy Beane would be taking a Fenway Sports Group position. I decided to rewatch Moneyball (2011) to judge whether the film holds up.
Note: There will be spoilers, but this pretty much all historical information, and the movie came out a decade ago. If you haven’t seen it by now, I’m not sure what to tell you.
At the film’s opening, the Oakland Athletics are in a tough spot. They’ve just lost in the 2001 ALDS to the New York Yankees. Key players such as Johnny Damon, Jason Giambi, and Jason Isringhausen are leaving in free agency. GM Billy Beane, played by Brad Pitt, has to replace these players while keeping the A’s competitive. They only have a budget of $38 million – chump change compared to big-market opponents’ payroll.
Inspired by the work of sabermetrics pioneer Bill James and aided by analyst Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), Beane begins signing and trading for undervalued players. He compiles a roster of cast-offs and bargain contracts to put Oakland in the win column through increased run production. Frequently laughed at and mocked by the old guard who refused to buy in on the cutting-edge statistical strategy, Beane doesn’t waver.
At season’s end, the Oakland Athletics make the playoffs after setting the American League record for consecutive victories. The 2002 A’s 20-game streak stood until the Cleveland Indians rattled off 22 straight wins in 2017. Oakland would go on to lose in the 2002 ALDS, but the proof of concept was there. More teams began adopting the ‘Moneyball’ strategy, some even winning the World Series (see: 2004 Boston Red Sox). Beane opted to stay with the A’s after the season, despite receiving a lucrative offer from Red Sox owner John Henry.
‘Moneyball’ Review: Does It Hold Up?
Overall, this film is fantastic. Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill are exceptionally well cast in their roles, and the on-screen dynamic between the two is excellent. Although some may see the interspersed real-life footage from 2002 as a detractor to the film’s immersion, I found it enjoyable and useful. The supporting cast is also a plus, spearheaded by Philip Seymour Hoffman as disgruntled A’s manager Art Howe.
Furthermore, this film is enjoyable, even if the viewer doesn’t understand anything about baseball. Bennett Miller’s direction puts it up there with the greatest sports movies of all time.
So yeah, Moneyball holds up. It’s especially poignant in recent days as teams like the Tampa Bay Rays advance to the World Series with a limited payroll. I’d be very impressed if any non-Rays fans out there could name more than three players on their roster who aren’t starting pitchers.
Despite sabermetric approaches coming into broader use in Major League Baseball, there are still doubters. Most big-market teams would rather throw bags of money into free agency than take a ton of consideration into a player’s actual value. Not to say that isn’t a good way to build a successful team, but Beane provided a working blueprint for how the little guy can win big. The Athletics have followed the Moneyball model through his whole tenure as GM, making numerous playoff appearances. The Tampa Bay Rays have remained competitive in a division that features the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. New developments in statistics and analytics are made every year, but Beane’s efforts undoubtedly changed baseball in ways that are still felt today.
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